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For the past three seasons, New York Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier has been a sports car idling in the driveway. The potential is there, but he’s yet to put the pedal to the floor.
After Frazier’s scintillating 2020 debut, the Yanks have reason to hope he’ll rev his engine in 2020.
But that raises the question: Is he the franchise’s next star, or should New York dangle him as trade bait in the near future?
After he was called up Tuesday, Frazier went 3-for-4 with a double, a home run and two runs scored in New York’s 6-3 win over Atlanta on Wednesday. That’s the guy New York hoped it was getting when it acquired 2013’s No. 5 overall pick from Cleveland as a centerpiece of the 2016 Andrew Miller trade.
“He’s been in a great place all this year, in spring and summer camp, and the way he was doing [at the alternate site] the last 10 days or so,” manager Aaron Boone told reporters. “I’m excited to see him come up and have an impact.”
Giancarlo Stanton is on the injured list with a strained hamstring. Aaron Judge is temporarily sidelined with “lower body tightness.” Frazier took Judge’s place in right field against Atlanta and did a solid impression of the slugger.
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Last season, Frazier posted an .806 OPS with 12 home runs in 69 games. In 2018, he appeared in just 15 big league contests while battling lingering concussion symptoms.
He’s still only 25 years old (he’ll turn 26 in September). He’s entering his prime. Assuming he remains healthy, Wednesday’s performance could be a preview of coming attractions and a sneak peek at the next iconic Bronx Bomber.
Then again, Frazier could also be an enticing bit of trade bait for the Yankees this offseason.
Judge will be the everyday right fielder as soon as he’s physically able to fill that role once again. Center fielder Aaron Hicks is signed through 2025. There could be a place for Frazier in left field, where veteran Brett Gardner is hitting .171 and can become a free agent after the season.
But the Yankees have other internal options, including Mike Tauchman and Miguel Andujar. They also have the resources to sign an impact free agent, and Frazier has posted minus-11 defensive runs saved in the outfield since 2017.
“His defense last year was terrible, worse than before he had the concussion,” an unnamed American League scout told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News.
Frazier’s future may be at designated hitter. Once Stanton returns, however, that spot belongs to the established slugger.
If Frazier accrues enough playing time this year, he could reach arbitration in the offseason. But he won’t hit free agency until 2025.
That controllability, coupled with his age and potential, would make him a valuable trade chip.
The Yankees’ farm system checked in at No. 23 in our post-2020 draft rankings and could use an infusion of talent. New York could also seek MLB-ready pitching in exchange for Frazier.
And if the universal designated hitter becomes a permanent fixture (which seems exceedingly possible), the list of potential suitors would grow to include many National League clubs that would otherwise have been wary of Frazier’s defensive shortcomings.
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“I think I’m still trying to find my role because I’m human,” Frazier told reporters. “And I look at a couple weeks from now whenever Stanton does come back and where that puts me, and I think that I at least have time between now and then to possibly establish a role, and I would hope that I make the most of it.”
Clearly, he understands his position on the Yankees’ depth chart is tenuous. But he also understands he’ll send his stock skyward if he swings it like he did Wednesday.
As George A. King III of the New York Post put it, Frazier “is not only playing for the Yankees but auditioning for the other 29 teams.”
After an uneven start to his MLB career, Frazier can get off to the races. Whether he’ll be racing in pinstripes or another uniform down the road remains to be seen.
All statistics current entering Thursday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
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